The clinical research field offers many opportunities for smart young candidates to make a difference in patients’ lives. In particular, aspiring applicants with an eye for detail and a passion for supporting medical innovation may find success in the role of Clinical Research Associate (CRA) as they embark on a career in research.
While graduates may assume a science-related college degree is a must-have, Jamie Duffy, manager of CRAs for Health Decisions, explains it’s not absolutely necessary. When she graduated in 2001, she had a degree in Communications and Sociology, with a minor in Mexican American studies. “There were no degree programs back then for clinical research,” she says.
Duffy was interested in the field, so she started applying for jobs and landed a position as a Regulatory Coordinator. She went on to become a Clinical Research Coordinator, where she got to interact with Principal Investigators on clinical trials and to support patient care.
“It is very detailed work and requires a lot of precision,” she says. “But I loved it, and it turned out that I was good at it.”
A passion for women’s health
Over the years Duffy has participated in groundbreaking clinical studies across a range of treatment categories, including dermatology, orthopedics, cardiology, and rheumatology. She built lasting relationships with investigators, and received training from nurses as she grew into the job. “I felt like I was really making a difference,” she says.
She was most excited to work on trials that dealt with women’s health, which ultimately led her to accept a CRA role at Health Decisions in 2017. Health Decisions is the only CRO that specializes in women’s health research, and its employees are driven by this unique commitment.
“Working at Health Decisions makes me so excited about the future of women’s health,” Duffy says.
Big ambition at a niche CRO
She notes that CRAs spend a lot of time traveling to trial sites and working independently, which can be challenging. Creating connections with colleagues and feeling like she was impacting the patient community was important to Duffy.
“I love the culture and the people I get to work with,” she says. “After working for other larger organizations, I felt I could more easily see the impact of my work at Health Decisions, and I found more opportunities to work collaboratively with my team members.”
She also saw ample opportunity to build her career. Within about a year, Duffy was promoted from CRA II to Senior CRA, then in 2019 she was promoted again to Manager of Clinical Operations, leading CRAs at Health Decisions.
“I wasn’t sure how I wanted to advance in my career, but thankfully I was given the opportunity to explore both a project management role and a CRA leadership role to help me in choosing a path forward,” she says. She found that her passion was mentoring, and opted to stick with the CRAs as a team leader rather than follow a traditional path to project management.
Today, one of her primary roles is training and mentoring the CRAs, ensuring they have the skills to excel in their current roles, and the support to build a career plan for their future. “I’ve worked on the sponsor side, at the site level, and with CROs. Because of my mixed experience, they know that I understand their job,” she says. “I can teach them nuances of the role that they wouldn’t learn at other companies.”
She meets with CRAs in a bi-weekly meeting, and schedules one-on-one sessions at least once a month. She also touches base with new CRAs more frequently to make sure they are getting the support they need, which is another aspect of the HD culture that Duffy loves.
“I’ve worked in companies where you never know if it’s okay to contact your manager, but I find it critical that I make myself available,” she says. She believes other managers at Health Decisions feel the same way.
She also sees herself as their champion, making sure they aren’t overworked, and that they have the cross-training they need to confidently tackle any project. And she makes sure they are supporting each other, particularly through the pandemic.
“It’s easy get lonely or burned out when you are often working alone, so our CRA team is always finding ways to connect with each other and other non-CRA members of the team, about our work and so much more.”
If you are interested in working as a CRA for a company where you can chart your own path while improving the lives of women around the world, Health Decisions could be a great fit. Connect with Danielle Greenidge and Jamie Duffy on LinkedIn and see open positions here.
Check out ‘5 reasons why employees work at Health Decisions’ to learn more about working at Health Decisions.